I wanted to think about abortion, so I went for a walk in the woods with my dog.
It had rained the previous night. Everything was damp and dark and redolent. The dog kept her nose to the ground like a hovercraft. The birds were chirping furiously overhead. Like they were trying to talk over one another.
I thought about the other kind of tweet.
After last week’s leaked decision by the Supreme Court, my social media accounts have exploded with rants and opinions. Whether in celebration or outrage, there is a certain expectation to post. Silence is complicity, some say. Walking in the woods, I wondered if that was true. Or, could adding to the noise actually be harmful? How will we ever find common ground by demonizing the other?
I continued down the trail. The dog pounced in the dead leaves for lizards that darted away just in time. Human civilization is not a dog-eat-dog (or lizard) world. At least, not according to our better nature.
Martin Buber, the philosopher, claimed we are to treat every human as a bearer of the divine image. Understanding that every person has sacred worth not only shows respect for others but avoids the trap of defining oneself in opposition. You don’t always have to react or judge. Admittedly, this conclusion is easier to reach in the quiet woods.
Abortion is the most divisive issue of our time. Social media creates echo chambers, filled with people who think just like us. But common ground is more possible by directly engaging family and friends different opinions, not necessarily to change anyone’s mind but to listen and to be heard.
I continued my walk. The breeze waved the tops of trees. What could I possibly say about abortion that hasn’t been said before?
I resolved to resist offering a homily or lecture. I am not a woman. I will never know what it is like to endure with grinding fury as other people discuss, even dismiss, my personal life.
Buber claimed that hate, not love, is blind. Hatred sees or experiences only a small part of another human’s life. Love sees the whole being. Not to fully comprehend but to instead form a relationship. Buber said, “All real living is meeting.”
I thought about friends on the opposite side of the abortion debate. We have shared long walks in the woods. As we hiked, we talked, but sometimes we were quiet. We shared opinions and snacks. We climbed to scenic vistas and stumbled over protruding roots. We went together.
Regarding abortion in this country, the road ahead seems fraught. To stumble ahead, more of us are going to have to trust and have compassion for others. This is no leisurely stroll.
But democracy has always been a spiritual journey, a path toward consensus by will of the majority that affirms the individual dignity of all. Too often, rancor has been equated with strength, tenderness with weakness. There is a better way. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”
The dog’s tongue was hanging out. And my legs were tired. I told the dog. “Let’s go home so I can write.” Thank you, gentle reader, for journeying with my words.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”
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